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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 13, New Delhi, March 19, 2016

Sliding Popularity of Right-wing Politics

Sunday 20 March 2016, by Sandeep Pandey

Hardly two months back nobody would have thought that PM Narendra Modi’s authority would be questioned by ordinary university students on campuses. The campaign which brought Modi to power in Delhi was so high profile that in the initial period of his prime ministership an atmosphere was created in which, what to talk of the common people, even his own party members, elected represen-tatives and Ministers couldn’t question him. He was like a headmaster who believed only in one-way communication. The media rarely questioned him or his decisions. But from the beginning of 2016, in less than two years of his prime ministership, the aura built around Modi has been punctured, not once but on several occasions.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has a strategy since long to mould the people’s minds through the education process. By propagating a certain ideology it has built a base of its supporters. Since this ideology is founded on aggressive nationalism, the people trained in the RSS schools have a domineering personality which believes in direct action. They don’t believe in the Indian Constitution nor do they respect law and order. For example, on December 6, 1992 the then BJP CM of UP, Kalyan Singh, gave an affidavit to the Supreme Court to the effect that he will not allow any damage to the Babri Masjid and then allowed it to be demolished by the Hindutva activists. It is surprising that no questions have been raised on his holding the constitutional post of a Governor today.

The government’s interference in academic institutions and its simultaneous opposition, to those bodies, which did not go down well with the academic community, started in the Film and Television Institute of India when Gajendra Singh was appointed its Chairman in June 2015. The students after a prolonged 139-day protest continue to oppose his appointment and refuse the offer of dialogue with him on this issue.

Things flared up after the suicide of Rohith Vemula on the Hyderabad University campus on January 17, 2016 and started taking an ugly turn. Shameless interference by the Central Ministers, use of violence to subjugate the voices of dissent by ABVP or BJP members and manipulation of facts by those sitting in responsible positions like the VC became a pattern. No other political organisation uses violence so easily against others as the Right-wing. The police and government usually stand by and let them go on rampage as was recently witnessed in the Patiala House Courts.

But the response to highhanded treatment by the government and university administrations has been equally strong. On January 22 three Dalit students—Ram Karan, Amrendra Kumar Arya and Surendra Kumar Nigam—raised slogans against Narendra Modi and dented his overawing image for the first time at the convocation of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University at Lucknow. Following this the BHU authorities were very circumspect and took extreme care that no untoward incident happened during Modi’s presence on the campus during the convocation. A Dalit Minister came in advance and held a meeting with Dalit students and professors to assuage any anti-government feelings they might have. In spite of this, about 200-250 members of the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Morcha, two of whom had earlier courted arrest in open defiance when they went to seek permission from the Varanasi DM to show black flags to Modi during his Varanasi visit, protested at the gate of the BHU and shouted ‘Narendra Modi go back’ slogans. Then when Narednra Modi was proceeding towards the gate inside the BHU leading to the Ravidas temple, members of Bahujan Mukti Party raised ‘Rohith Vemula Zindabad’ slogans and demanded punishment for the culprits responsible for his death. Here again ‘Narendra Modi go back’ slogans were raised. During the convocation in the BHU one student, Ashutosh Singh, raised slogans demanding revival of the Students’ Union which has been suspended since 1997. He was slapped and overpowered by the police. These three incidents took place when the BHU was converted into a fortress on February 22, 2016 and every person and corner was under the security gaze. Imagine what would have happened if this security cover was not there. It is quite possible that Dalit organisations alone would have blocked Narendra Modi’s entry into the campus.

Compared to the two terms of Manomohan Singh in which, what now appears to be major achievements, important Acts like the Right to Information, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence, (Mahatma Gandhi) National Rural Employment Guarantee, Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights), Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, National Food Security, Right to Education, Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending), Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation were enacted, the Narendra Modi Government hasn’t really accomplished anything worthwhile to show. The Make in India or Startup India programmes have failed to take off due to lack of interest of the investors. Hence the RSS has found it convenient to fall back on its tested strategy of polarising the society on emotive issues like patriotism and anti-national activities.

Usually university level politics is left to the student groups. Every political party of any worth has student groups on campuses. If the Congress has the NSUI, the BJP has the ABVP. Left parties, which otherwise are not very strong in State level politics, have a strong presence on campuses in the form of the AISA, SFI and AISF associated with the CPI(ML), CPI-M and CPI, respectively, and are able to win student union elections quite easily. There are even ultra-Left groups like the DSU which don’t believe in contesting elections. In other words, univeristies have seen a plethora of groups believing in diverse ideologies that co-exist. Usually they don’t engage in violent clashes with each other even though their ideologies may be contradictory. Sometimes they resort to violence but it is usually against the administration or government.

No other political party has been so obssessed about taking control of academic campuses as the BJP. And they have made a mess of it. In addition to encouraging clashes between student groups, which sometimes become violent, by direct or indirect intervention through RSS-affiliated VCs or police, they have spoiled the academic atmosphere of institutions so much so that it has now started pinching their own people. Three ABVP officer-bearers in JNU, Pradeep Narwal, Rahul Yadav and Ankit Hans, have resigned citing differences with the RSS and BJP on Manusmriti and the Rohith Vemula incident. A Ph.D student at JNU, Neetu Singh, feels the BJP has let her down as people outside the campus now call her anti-national.

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey was recently sacked this year from the IIT-BHU where he was a Visiting Professor on the charge of being a “Naxalite” engaging in “anti-national” activities. He was elected along with Prof Keshav Jadhav the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India) at its founding conference at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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